More than 3,400 athletes on Sunday morning will bolt from the Savannah River and onto their bicycles for a 56-mile trek through the rural roads of Aiken County.
The bike ride is part of the fourth annual ESi Ironman 70.3 Augusta triathlon, which includes a 1.2-mile swim in the river before the bike portion and a 13.1-mile run through the streets of Augusta afterward.
The athletes will roll into Beech Island along Sand Bar Ferry Road, to Jackson along Old Jackson Highway and into New Ellenton on S.C. Highway 19. They will then loop back to Augusta along Gray Mare Hollow Road, Strom Branch Road and onto Sand Bar Ferry Road to return.
Carly Kobasiar, sales and marketing manager for the Augusta Sports Council, said this is the largest the event has been in four years and that it sold out in July. Last year’s race brought triathletes from 44 states and 16 countries, and Kobasiar said they’re expecting a similar turnout this year.
She said the bike portion of the race has remained the same over the four years.
“There are lots of rolling hills, beautiful scenery ... a beautiful bike ride,” she said. “We did that the first year. We have a really strong cycling community here in Augusta, and they love to bike ride through Aiken County. The horse country is something unique to this area.”
Kobasiar said another reason that Aiken County was appealing was because it offered a complete 56-mile loop that isn’t repetitive and doesn’t require a turn around.
The race will begin in waves starting at 7:30 a.m. Sunday. Kobasiar estimates that the first bicyclists will enter Aiken County around 8 a.m. and that the roads should be cleared by 3 p.m.
Cyclists will be sharing the roadways with motorists.
“They are asked to stay off to the side and not spread out across the entire lane of traffic,” Kobasiar said, adding that race organizers are urging motorists to use extra caution and give themselves extra time to get where they’re going.
“If you get stuck at an intersection, just sit back and enjoy it,” she said. “It doesn’t drive through your backyard every day.”
Race organizers have the cooperation of multiple law enforcement agencies in Georgia and South Carolina. The Aiken County Sheriff’s Office will have 52 deputies working the event, according to Capt. Troy Elwell, a spokesman.
Elwell said the additional personnel will be paid for by the race and not taxpayer dollars.
“We would just ask people that, if they can avoid the whole course during the time frame of the race, that’s the best thing to do,” Elwell said. “If you get inside that course, it’s going to take some time to get out. … The whole course is basically a bad traffic situation.”
Elwell said the Sheriff’s Office has not had problems with the event in the past and that traffic management has improved each year.
“Every year, the citizens become more aware and it seems to flow a little smoother every year,” he said. “It gets better every year and we hope to continue that.”
Teddy Kulmala covers the crime beat for the Aiken Standard. He is a graduate of Clemson University and hails from Williston, S.C.